A version of this article appeared in the September issue of BRAIN.
SAN FRANCISCO (BRAIN) — With new integrations with retail point of sale systems allowing frictionless enrollment, partnerships with major used bike sellers, and promoted social media posting options for consumers with stolen bikes, BikeIndex.org is hoping to further reduce the scourge of bike thievery.
BikeIndex began operations in 2014 and has helped recover more than $8.5 million in stolen bikes. The site is operated by a nonprofit organization, but that hasn’t discouraged it from offering tech and marketing partnerships worthy of any aggressive startup.
“There isn’t really a lot of money to be made here,” said Craig Dalton, explaining the organization’s decision to register as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Dalton is an industry veteran who raced bikes and worked for Vetta and Avocet early in his career, before launching a tech industry startup. He joined BikeIndex as executive director earlier this year.
There’s no charge for consumers or retailers to register bikes with the index (about 30% of registrations occur after the bike is already stolen). BikeIndex has registered nearly 300,000 bikes and works with about 800 organizations, including bike shops.
(A for-profit rival, Seattle-based 529 Garage, said it has surpassed 1 million searchable bicycles worldwide. 529 lists more than 1,400 law enforcement, city, university and bike shop partners in North America.)
BikeIndex pays the bills in part with paid services for municipalities and universities. The city of Edmonton, Alberta, for example, is now using BikeIndex as the city’s official bicycle registration system. The program there includes the involvement of local bike retailers to register bikes at point of sale.
BikeIndex makes it easier for all retailers to register bikes with plug-ins for the Lightspeed and Ascend POS systems. The feature automatically enrolls bikes in the background, creating an account for the new bike owner. The retailer only needs to include the serial number and the buyer’s email to create the account. The consumer later receives an email from BikeIndex, co-branded with the retailer’s name, offering the chance to register with the system and upload bike photos and other information. If the consumer opts not to register, the bike remains in BikeIndex’s registry and can be accessed in the future if the bike is stolen.
“If the bike is stolen a year later and the consumer wants to go back and activate the account, the information is still there,” Dalton said, adding, “We have very strict privacy policies. We don’t sell the information or email the person again (after the initial contact).”
BikeIndex also is working with The Pro’s Closet and BicycleBlueBook to encourage its buyers to use the service, and is working with a partner to develop an embeddable widget that retailers can add to their websites.
BikeIndex sends out stolen bike reports to several law enforcement databases. A recent update allows victims of bike theft to opt to pay for promoted Facebook listings, sending stolen bike reports far and wide on the social media site
“We’re constantly looking for ways to make it difficult to sell stolen bikes online or elsewhere — that’s our focus. In the end, it all starts to make a difference,” Dalton said.
More information on Bike Index’s bike shop programs at bikeindex.org/bike_shop_packages.